The dramatic unrest surrounding Catalonia’s independence referendum last week initially came as a surprise. But the roots of this conflict go back many many years and include the Spanish Civil War and the dictatorship that followed it.

We’ve put together a collection of Spanish movies, currently available online, that offer different histories and perspectives about the Spanish Civil War and the Franco years in Spain. Watch any of these to practice your Spanish, better understand current and past events, or simply to enjoy a great film. And don’t forget to sign up for our next round of Spanish classes, starting at the end of this month.

 

The Mexican Suitcase (La maleta mexicana)

Trisha Ziff (2006, Mexico/Spain/USA/France), Amazon

Despite the title, this documentary tells a moving story about Spanish history. In a series of true events which could have been written by Borges or Bolaño, a renowned Hungarian photographers’ photos of the Spanish Civil War trace a secret, decades-long route from Spain to occupied Paris to the bedroom of a Mexican general. When the photos are discovered in 2007, they open a door to never-before-told stories of the Spanish Civil War. The best part of this documentary are the many moving interviews with aged survivors of the war, many of whom were exiled to Mexico and never saw their homeland again. A wonderful introduction to the topic.

 

The Spirit of the Beehive (El espíritu de la colmena) /strong>

Victor Erice (1973, Spain), Filmstruck

One of the masterpieces of 1970’s Spanish cinema, this dreamlike film follows a little girl in a small Castilian village in 1940. After seeing a film version of Frankenstein put on by a traveling cinema, Ana becomes obsessed with finding the monster in real life. An allegory for the trauma of the war and the dictatorship, the lush symbolism of this movie allowed it to slip past the Spanish censors just a few years before Franco’s death.

 

Pan’s Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno)

Guillermo del Toro (2006, Spain), Amazon

Perhaps the best know movie about the Spanish Civil War’s aftermath in the United States, Pan’s Labyrinth is visually beautiful as well as heartbreaking. A young girl accompanies her mother as they move in with her new stepfather, a heartless fascist whose mansion in a deep forest feels like a fairytale monster’s lair. But the magic here is much older than that–in a series of fantasies and visions, the young girl befriends the ancient god Pan and he leads her on a series of quests that she must complete. A mixture of fantasy and Spanish history.

 

The Last Circus (Balada triste de trompeta)

Álex de la Iglesia (2011, Spain), Amazon

The weirdest and wildest of the films listed here The Last Circus is a product of provocateur Álex de la Iglesia’s fevered mind. Pure fantasy spun from the real-life ingredients of a stranger-than-fiction Spanish TV star from the 70s (don’t click if you’re scared of clowns) and a series of terrorist attacks in Spain near the end of Franco’s life. A sad clown on the side of the good guys sets out to kill fascists and get the girl in this surreal and sometimes disturbing, but nonetheless delightful, film.